MSD UK - the new investment branch of MSD Partners - have once again 'invested' in English football by giving a loan to Derby County.
Although the exact amount of the loan is unknown, charges on the football club's Companies House records confirm the loan, which is secured against the club and its intellectual property such as the stadium and training ground.
The deal is similar to the one MSD UK made with Southampton earlier this year, while three directors from MSD - John Phelan, Glenn Fuhrman and Rob Platek - made another now-dissolved company in FPP Sunderland to make a similar loan to the Wearsiders late last year.
It's worth noting FPP's loan was not direct to Sunderland AFC, however, and was instead to Madrox Partners - the holding company that owns the football club. It means the club have no debt still, but should Madrox default on the repayment then FPP would own Madrox and all their intellectual properties, which as of this date is just Sunderland AFC and its assets, ie the Stadium of Light and Academy of Light.
Platek, one of the American trio who was involved in FPP, is named as a director of MSD UK. You can see the obvious connections.
There's a lot of secrecy, or unknowns, with regards to MSD and their involvement in English football. They've always declined to comment on their intentions, having initially looked like they were going to launch a takeover bid at Sunderland before that was downgraded to a loan.
So what are their intentions with Southampton and Derby now? Sunderland Live considers the two most-likely possibilities.
Testing the waters for a full takoever
When they first registered their interest in Sunderland, there's absolutely no doubt that their intention was to buy the club, or at least invest in it through the purchase of a percentage of the shares.
They set-up FPP Sunderland as a vehicle company to achieve exactly that, and two of the trio attended a game last season where they were pictured with Richard Hill and Tony Coton in a directors' box. The third, Glenn Fuhrman, couldn't make it that weekend, but did visit the club's facilities and met with key personnel at the club on a later date.
It's not known exactly why that all changed suddenly and what was meant to be a takeover became a loan to Madrox Partners.
What we do know is that they had an interest in buying an English club for some time and Sunderland were not the first club they considered. Chelsea, Newcastle, Watford and Bournemouth were all believed to have been looked at as potential opportunities for the investors, who are close business associates to billionaire Michael Dell - named as a 'passive, minority investor' in initial discussions to takeover at Sunderland.
One thing Stewart Donald suggested after a takeover fell through and it became a loan was that they were testing the waters, so to speak. Offering an amount of money to see how it would be used.
Donald received criticism for this because he worded it by saying they were investing in him. It wasn't strictly true, but what he really meant was that they were looking to invest in an already-established structure.
Sunderland Live spoke to people in America close to the trio at the time and were told that they were interested in European football, but they were first to admit they had little-to-no knowledge of the game.
As such, rather than invest in Donald personally, as he likely didn't intend to make it sound, FPP were looking to invest in a club that already had a structure in place that they could trust and they could invest their money in. Sunderland Live are aware that had they gained control of the club their intentions were to keep key personnel on at the club, including people like Donald, Charlie Methven and Richard Hill.
Effectively, the plan at that time, was for Donald to become more like what Jim Rodwell is now - the chief executive; the captain manning the ship for the man/men with the money.
Exactly why their 'investment' went from buying shares, potentially a majority, to making a loan is not known.
Did they see something they didn't like when carrying out due diligence? Donald claims not. Did they just not trust their own knowledge to go ahead with such a deal and instead, as Donald suggested, decide to test the waters instead? It is possible, particularly as they've since made two similar deals.
Since their dealings with Sunderland, MSD have dissolved FPP Sunderland, creating the UK branch of MSD instead and loaning money to both Southampton and now Derby County.
If MSD still want to takeover a football club, perhaps there was some truth in what Donald said. Perhaps they were, and now are, testing the waters. 'Here is x amount of millions, show us what you can do with it. Show us why we should invest and give you more'.
It makes sense. This is a new market to them. they admit they don't know football. They're businessmen - clever and experienced investors who don't like wasting money.
Testing the waters with a loan could be their way of seeing if an investment would be worthwhile, while also protecting themselves against any loss.
They've realised there's a market for loans in English football
The second potential for their loans to the three clubs, is that they've recognised a market that has existed for some time in English football - and that is loaning clubs money, and making lucrative interest from it.
The one issue with this is that it goes against the fact that the group were absolutely interested in taking some shares in Sunderland initially.
But perhaps this suggestion is based upon a change in attitude towards what they wanted their involvement in English football to be. Perhaps their experience with Sunderland resulted in a change in tactics after sensing an opportunity.
There are many companies that exist to loan money to football clubs. It's been happening for a while across Europe now.
23 Capital made huge headlines last summer when it was revealed they had loaned Barcelona €88m to complete the transfer of Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid. A statement from the company, who have offices across Europe, including London, claimed that they had 'deployed and advised on over $3bn of transactions' in football.
This is particularly viable given the current financial climate in English football, where many clubs are living dangerously in terms of money in their pursuit of glory.
In an article looking into exactly this in the Financial Times, a recent executive of a club explained why companies such as MSD could thrive in the game, with banks becoming more reluctant to lend clubs money.
“If clubs start going under, banks will just consider [other] clubs more risky and stop lending,” said the executive who was said to have led an English Premier League club until recently.
MacQuarie Bank, from Australia, have become one of the best known for this, and are the second biggest lenders to Premier League clubs behind only official league sponsors Barclays.
Once dubbed 'the Vampire Kangaroo', Macquaries have a portfolio of loans to English clubs which includes Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Southampton, Swansea City, Watford, West Brom and Wolves, with most of the loans they offer secured against future TV income.
Simply put, clubs loan money upfront to get much-needed cash into the club immediately, and pay it back with TV money they know will be coming into the club at a later date.
It's interesting that Southampton are on the list of lenders from Macquarie. In July 2019 they settled their charges with the Australian company, although it was expected at the time that it would be renewed. It wasn't, and instead, Southampton took out a new loan, this time from MSD UK.
A few months later and we have a similar loan offered by MSD UK, this time for Derby County. Both are similar to the one that FPP made at Sunderland, in that they're secured against the football clubs and all their assets. Essentially, if the loan is not repaid within the agreed time, MSD own Southampton, or they own Derby. Of course, they couldn't own both because that would be a conflict of interest.
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In this scenario, however, the very real worry, including for Sunderland whose loan is still believed to be outstanding, is what do they do if they seize control of a club? What are their intentions for it? Do they try and find the right people to run it for them? Or do they look to sell as quickly as possible to make their money back?
It's that possibility that is particularly worrying. With no emotional attachment to the clubs, will they care who they sell it to as long as they get their money?
It's all a bit speculative for now, with no real idea of what their true intentions are. The above are, at best, educated guesses. But whatever MSD's intentions are, they don't seem to be leaving English football behind in a hurry.